HKSB in the Media
Community Champions: Helen Keller Services for the Blind: Continuing the Good Works of a True American Heroine
Sunday, November 05, 2006
by Jenna Kern-Rugile
Most everyone knows the name and enduring legacy of Helen Keller. She was a blind and deaf woman who dedicated her life to serving those in need. Keller’s work is being continued on Long Island today by caring individuals who work for the organization that bears her name: Helen Keller Services for the Blind (HKSB). Since 1893, their mission has been to help the blind and visually impaired develop independence and participate actively in their communities.
While the organization provides myriad services for people of all ages and levels of visual impairment, perhaps the most vulnerable among them are those who also suffer from developmental disabilities such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy and mental health issues.
“Years ago, such individuals often ended up being put in institutional settings, which was a difficult choice for their families,” explains John Lynch, executive director of HKSB. When many of those institutions were closed, the need for better housing options became even more pressing.
In August 2002, HKSB answered that call when it opened a group residence in North Bellmore that is home to several de3velopmentally disabled and visually impaired adults. After spending the bulk of their day at HKSB’s Day Treatment Program in Hempstead, the house members live just like everyone else – shopping, cooking, going to the bank and running errands.
“We’re a real family here,” says Cherry Reid, community residence manager. “The residents have close relationships.”
In both its Day Treatment Program and the group residence, “Everything is geared toward independence,” says Reid. “We don’t do for them, we do with them.”
Adds Lynch, “We respect each individual’s goals, skills and desires and we treat them with compassion and professionalism.”
That ethic guides every program run by HKSB, whose services include training in safe travel and daily living skills; low vision clinics that help people maximize their vision; vocational assessment and job placement; and Senior Centers that offer group activities and social services for those over 55.
HKSB also offers many services for youngsters, including a preschool vision screening program that evaluates 25,000 preschoolers each year for eye disorders that may lead to permanent visual impairment if not detected and treated early; a Braille and large-print library that produces textbooks for students in grades K-12; Camp Helen Keller for kids 4-15; and a Saturday program for adolescents.
“Kids who are visually impaired often feel isolated in school,” says Lynch. “When they come into contact with kids with similar issues, they get a better sense of themselves and better self-esteem. It’s a phenomenal program.”